Lufthansa Premium Economy Frankfurt-Washington – The inaugural flight
Lufthansa have somewhat of a tradition at the annual ITB Fair in Berlin, a tradition of failing to announce any news. In March 2014, however, the news that many have been waiting for finally came, premium economy on long-haul flights. The first aircraft with the new seats was delivered to Lufthansa in late September, and October 8th became the date of the premiere flight. BusinessClass.co.uk was on board the inaugural flight to Washington, and we were, in fact, the first ever premium economy passenger to board.
Premium economy will be formally put into service December 1st 2014, and will be on selected flights during October and November. During this period, they will upgrade passengers from economy class and offer upgrades for points.
The first destinations will be Washington, Los Angeles and Toronto, and it will be the Boeing 747-8 which will initially be equipped with premium economy, followed by the Airbus A330 and the Airbus A380. The new product will be available on all long-haul aircraft from December 2015.
Lufthansa’s major challenge with this new product was to find the appropriate standard and balance. Economy Class passengers may well notice the added value, although it may not be enough to compete with business class. The result is a mixture of benefits, which in some cases represent a premium product, and other parts represent a standard economy class product.
We go through what Lufthansa’s premium economy is and what passengers can expect.
At the Airport
I arrived at Frankfurt airport with plenty of time before my 1.10pm departure. With only hand luggage, I decided to check in via a self service machine. There were a lot of questions to answer on the screen, which was mainly due to the fact I was travelling to the United States, but otherwise the process was simple and efficient.
As a Lufthansa premium economy passenger, some extra benefits on the ground were included, for example, the opportunity to check in two bags instead of the usual one as is usual in regular economy class. The benefits did not include check-in at the business counter or fast track, however, I was able to utilise these benefits due to my gold card ownership.
After security and passport control, I had plenty of time for a lounge visit. As a Lufthansa premium economy passenger, no lounge access was provided, however, access to Lufthansa’s business lounge was available for 25 euros. Passengers in economy are not given the option to purchase access. One can also purchase access to Lufthansa’s Welcome Lounge, their arrivals lounge in Frankfurt.
With my gold card, I chose to visit the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in the new A-Plus Pier near gate Z50, which was not far from my departure gate, gate Z52. It is a very large lounge decorated with Lufthansa’s new lounge design. Because of the number of departures to North America around lunch time, there were a lot of people in the lounge, but it did not feel crowded or cramped, largely due to the generous size of the lounge.
Boarding and First Impressions
As this was a maiden flight, boarding began extra early, 50 minutes before departure. As passengers in premium economy, priority boarding was not included.
To mark the occasion, however, premium economy passengers were allowed to board first, while the entire product team, including the product manager and Lufthansa’s commercial director, stood in two lines at the gate and wished all passengers a pleasant trip with signs and banners. I was actually the first premium economy passenger to board and was met with cheers and applause from those present.
There was no clear signs at the gate so it was unclear as to which passenger bridge was to be used for premium economy passengers. It turned out to be the same as economy class passengers, the far passenger bridge.
Premium Economy was located between business class and economy class, in roughly the middle of the aircraft. On the seat, a pillow and blanket were waiting for me. After everyone had found their seats and settled, a welcome drink was offered. Unfortunately there was no champagne, but a glass of cold orange juice served with a garnish went down very well. In addition, we received a small amenities bag with toiletries.
My first impressions of premium economy were positive, largely because the aircraft was so new and the interior felt very fresh. Specific impressions will probably depend a lot on what you are accustomed to. In terms of cabin structure, it is evident that the product still belongs to the economy class segment. There was a proper curtain separating business class while the demarcation for economy class was small screens located above the seats. Moreover, economy and premium economy shared the use of toilets on board.
We had a punctual pushback a few minutes after 1pm and the flight time was estimated at eight hours to Washington. A maiden flight is always a little special, even so for the staff on board who drew attention to this several times during their announcements.
Premium Economy consisted of four rows in a 2-4-2 configuration, i.e. eight seats wide, compared to economy which had a configuration of 3-4-3, with ten seats wide. The seat is slightly wider and has more leg room than in economy class. Legroom is 38 inches (compared to 31-32 inches in economy class) and the seat width is 18-19 inches (compared to 17-18 in economy).
Other differences between the classes included the basic amenities bag and a bottle of water which were both waiting at my seat. The seat also had both a power socket and a USB port.
The seat was very comfortable to sit in and most on board agreed. Although the seat offered no abundance of space and can not (and should not) be compared to business class, it was by no means cramped, neither in terms of width or legroom. The large backrests are somewhat constricting to the passenger behind when reclined, this might not be a problem on night flights, but it was almost impossible to sit and work with the seat infront tilted so far backwards. It was also very tight trying to get out of the seat. I would personally prefer for Lufthansa to reduce the reclining potential a little.
The on-board entertainment system is the same throughout the entire aircraft, with a fairly modern AVOD system (Audio Video On Demand). The screens in premium economy are between 11 and 12 inches, which is little larger than the 9 inches in economy.
The system had a standard of range of movies, TV shows, documentaries, music albums and games which failed to impress when compared to some of the extremely extensive entertainment systems some airlines offer. The entertainment system also displayed information about Lufthansa, footage from two cockpit cameras, and a flight map to follow the flight.
The system can be controlled by either tapping the screen or a hand-held remote control located in the armrest. Additionally, the screen is adjustable and can be manoeuvred up and down a few centimetres.
Throughout the flight Wifi was available for a fee, via FlyNet. This was on offer only after we had reached cruising altitude, about 20 minutes after takeoff, and was turned off about 20 minutes before we landed in Washington. The speed is obviously not up to the levels you find on the ground and some problems were encountered at the beginning of the fight. This coupled with a malfunction with the entertainment system, meant staff had to restart the entire system. Apart from this, it worked perfectly fine. It was very handy to be able to work during the flight.
Lunch was served after takeoff and a light meal was served shortly before arrival in the United States. Service began with menus being distributed, followed by a hot towel and a cocktail served with nuts. I ordered a gin & tonic. The beverage selection consisted of a red and white wine (a variety of each), beer, spirits, and various non-alcoholic beverages. There was also sparkling wine, however, no champagne was on offer in premium economy. The standard range of spirits included gin, vodka, brandy and whisky, without any particular brands worth mentioning.
Fifteen minutes after the serving of the cocktail, another cart passed, this time with the meal tray on board. Lunch consisted of a shrimp salad with a yogurt dressing, followed a choice of two main course – steak with rice and chili sauce, or vegetarian pasta bolognese. Dessert was a brownie with cream. Everything was served simultaneously on the same tray and bread was distributed from a basket. The food cart also offered beer and wine to accompany dinner.
The biggest difference from economy class is that the food is served on real china and the drinks in real glasses, creating a more pleasant experience. The food tasted okay but was not extraordinary. The biggest problem was the rather small portions which are certainly not big enough to stave off hunger for an entire eight hour flight.
Additional wine was offered, later followed by coffee, tea, brandy and baileys. While the wine was served in real glasses, plastic glasses were used for cocktails and liqueurs, as well as the juice and water served between meals.
The flight attendants passed about once an hour during the rest of the flight, with orange juice and water on offer from a tray. I assume the flight attendants were open to taking orders for something else if one desired. Otherwise, no snacks were offered between meals.
Meal number two was served 90 minutes before landing in Washington, and perhaps felt a bit more business class than economy class, something similar to what you get on a one hour flight in business class within Europe. The meal consisted of platter of three different cheeses, salami, and a bowl of fruit salad, while bread was offered from a bread basket. Beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee and tea were also available from the cart. This time service began with a hot towel.
There was nothing wrong with either of the meals, but overall it was quite a small amount of food for an eight hour flight, and if you consider boarding, passport control, and other formalities before and after the flight, the whole process is more like 10-11 hours. A piece of chocolate was also offered in premium economy prior to landing.
An inaugural flight is always a unique experience and is the culmination of many months, or even years, of planning and preparation to make it a special day for everyone involved. On board the inaugural flight was the product manager of premium economy and Lufthansa’s commercial manager, which of course meant that the staff had an extra reason to keep on their toes.
The service from the cabin crew was friendly and courteous throughout, however, names were not used with any of the passengers and I noticed no special attention to me as gold card holder.
It is difficult to determine if this will be the standard practice because, as I said, this was a unique flight.
The seat reclined approximately 130 degrees, but I advise you to check with the person behind before reclining as it can be quite troublesome for said person if they are not prepared and are, for example, trying to work.
As this was a day flight, I did not sleep in the seat, but the sleeping potential of the seat can not be compared to business class, where a fully-flat seat is provided. This premium economy seat does, however, have considerably more comfort and space than regular economy class.
We had a punctual landing at Washington Dulles shortly before 4pm local time. Dulles Airport is notorious for its passport control and the often long and slow queues that can take an hour or more to pass through, but this afternoon it actually ran rather smoothly.
As I travelled with only hand luggage, I had no checked baggage to think about and could quickly exit the airport.
The new premium economy seat is very comfortable and spacious, and the new cabin felt modern. The use of real china and glass during meal times was a nice touch, but the meals themselves were far too small for an 8 hour flight. Your opinion of the product as a whole will probably largely be influenced by your previous experiences and expectations of long-haul flights. This product is clearly not business class, but is certainly a much more pleasant experience than economy.
Lufthansa mentioned that reservations have so far exceeded expectations, so we will see how it develops as the product is officially rolled out.
Choosing a seat in the front row has many advantages. It is easier to leave your seat without having to bother the person next to you (if you are not next to the aisle) and it is the clear choice if you want to work during the flight as you do not have anyone in front who may want to recline their seat and consequently disrupt your working.
The downside with the first row is that you have to put all hand luggage in the overhead compartment during takeoff and landing.